Feb 11, 2013

Princess Culture — Still Promoting the Patriarchy After All These Years?

Quickly after posting pics of Lucy's new princess dress yesterday I realized what a squandered opportunity it was to write only about how I made this costume for my daughter — and not WHY?

After all, you may not know this, but I am a full-on feminist — the kind who lays awake at night troubled by the messages my little kidlet is absorbing from books, movies and music (to some that may seem antithetical because I am a work-at-home mom who sew her family's clothes and bakes pies — a traditional skillset that would have served me well in a more repressive time). 

I kept princess culture away from my kid as long as possible. (For an interesting analysis of Princess Culture, check out Peggy Orenstein's "Cinderella Ate My Daughter" — a great read for any parent of a girl). Not only do I find it upsetting to encourage our daughters to aspire to an elite position only attainable through birth or marriage, but the endgame in all princess stories is teen marriage — not something I would wish for my daughter. I prefer her to watch shows and read books about solving mysteries, making friends, or starting a rock band (her latest love is "Ruby Gloom," which will turn her into a goth quite soon I'm sure of it). 

Maybe it's the English Major in me that I cannot enjoy these classic tales without parsing out the patriarchal oppression. Poor Cinderella is forced into child labor, with marriage her only means of escape. The Little Mermaid gives up her voice for a man. Belle develops Stockholm Syndrome for a major jerk. And you can't get any more passive than Snow White and Sleeping Beauty, who both end up in comas. 

But Disney princesses (especially the post-Millenial ones) are also brave and adventurous — qualities I do like to encourage in my daughter. Tiana outwits a Voodoo witch doctor. Merida fights off a bear with her bow and arrow to save her mother (If you haven't seen it, Brave is an incredible feminist film. All of the main characters are female, and there's no love story — only a rescue adventure tale that brings a girl and her mom closer together). So, I made my daughter a princess dress. This is what she does in it:


Pretty badass. 


Thinking about all this earlier today, I asked my daughter what was so great about being a princess.

"You get to have fancy things like dresses," she said. Like, duh, mom.

So she's in it for the fashion (and a little class escapism), which means I shouldn't be so hung up on all the other stuff.

Because if I do, she'll probably rebel and become one of those women who dream about getting married at Disney World in full princess regalia. Or worse. Better to get it out of her system early, so she can go on to mutilate Barbie dolls or whatever it is that five-year-olds do.


Any parents out there who wrestle with the Disney Princessification of your kid? Do you try to get your child to think critically about these stories (which I try to do, to my kid's annoyance)?

24 comments:

  1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

    ReplyDelete
  2. I commend you for thinking about this. I find it hard to get raising a girl "right" in the face of abominable cultural influences - a lot of children's movies and TV is so sexist, as is most marketing/advertising. Add to this that my girl is very girly and I also practise many traditional tasks in the family... oh my! So far my solution has been sheltering her as much as possible (very little TV and movies) and encouraging her in making her own way. That said, I was very very girly myself and still became quite the outspoken young woman, invested a lot of time in my intellectual development and became a rather late mother. I'd say there's hope for princesses yet!

    ReplyDelete
  3. Getting married at Disney is a thing? OMG, I had no idea that adults did that.

    Just think of the disconnect between the glorification of the princess wedding and the reality of marriage - I wonder at the marital success of couples that set themselves up like that! Hmmmm....there's a thesis in there somewhere...

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Oh yes, I would love to see that study!

      Delete
    2. Also, I would love to see a satirical short film that follows the Disney princesses four years into their marriages....

      Delete
    3. Uh, scary follow-up, but last night over dinner my daughter said, "I'm done. Princesses don't eat very much so they don't be fat." Holy shit! I laughed and told her that princesses are rich, so they like to have big parties with lots of food and feast with their friends, but I was disturbed, let me tell you! Then we ate pie. ;)

      Delete
  4. I would love to see that satirical film, too! Haha!

    I live in the land of baby beauty pageants. Good ol' SC. I wish I could properly describe how disturbing it all is. I teach children, too, and I have to be very careful how I speak about certain things but I am very much a feminist, too. I am definitely reading that book now.

    Wasn't Mulan the first Disney character that decided (on her own accord) not to end up with the man at the end of the movie? I haven't actually seen it but I remember someone talking about it. Good for her. That's my big issue with princess movies. That ending up married/with a man is what determines your eternal happiness. So not the case. That being said, I sure did love the hell out of The Little Mermaid when I was in elementary school.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I loved Little Mermaid when I was young too. The songs are pretty catchy.

      Delete
  5. Oh yeah! I grew up with a disdain for princesses, baby-dolls, and pink. I'm not sure that was a great attitude to foster either. Is "Free To Be You and Me" still available? (Although probably not as a scratched up LP like mine) Do you know it? I wonder how well that has aged- Your kiddo looks like she's on a good track.

    ReplyDelete
  6. If you haven't yet seen the short clips of the Disney princess mockup created by The Second City Network, you are missing out. they go into exactly the same problems you mention above. So funny you may snot milk out your nose. They also do a series with the most famous Shakespeare plays and one about Adam and Eve. It's hilarious!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. That sounds awesome. I will check that out

      Delete
    2. Found it! I love these "Advice from a cartoon princess" videos: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N8xCgC3w1zs

      Delete
    3. Yes! Aren't they awesome?! I really love the Sassy Gay Friend episodes too. That guy takes the Shakespeare tragedies and inserts a sassy gay friend to save the female characters. Everything they put on you tube is hysterical.

      Delete
  7. Ive read the book and have the same reservations as you do. So far my daughter has not seen any princess movies and I hope to keep it that way as long as possible. Then again, I have to remind myself that it's not femininity or dressing up that is the problem. And that if she likes to dress fancy then it's great for her to be imaginitive and enjoy herself. Ive been thinking about making her a princess dress up lately. I know she would love it.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes, exactly. Suppressing traditionally feminine qualities is not my goal, but suppressing anything that says you HAVE to be like that...kids are very literal — to a fault. And they generalize like crazy, so it's very easy for them to fall into "girls are like this and boys are like that," because they're trying to make sense of the world.

      Delete
    2. Oh, and I totally recommend Brave, when your daughter is a bit older. It's quite scary but really great. In it, Merida refuses an arranged marriage, and then accidentally gets a witch to turn her mom into a bear. All the men, her dad included, don't realize the bear is actually her mom, and are trying to kill her, so it's up to Merida to save her. Merida is talented, smart, resourceful, and an independant thinker. It's a great movie for little girls (when they're old enough to handle bear attacks without getting night terrors!).

      Delete
  8. Not a parent but I have read that book - after all I grew up in the height of Disney Princess-ism and Barbie glam. It's only gotten worse after kids my age grew up and immersed their own children's development with it because they couldn't have everything it promised.

    ReplyDelete
  9. I,too, am an at home mom with an English degree who loves to sew pretty dresses and is concerned about the messages delivered to my daughter by Disney movies as well as pop t.v. in general. Small world. I have kept my daughter away from the movies, but she still loves her Ariel Barbie and mermaid tutu and enjoys the use of her Disney princess puzzle and toothbrush. This has been pretty easy to keep under control, as we don't have cable television, and my kid is not being marketed to by the most powerful marketing tool on Earth.

    I don't mind the pretty dress, tutu, crown fixation, because I believe that true feminism means accepting the choices of other women, whether it is returning to work, staying at home, going to university, going to beauty school, or what have you.

    So, yeah, I'll let her wear what she likes (I just sewed her a pair of ruby slippers- she loves The Wizard of Oz), but we'll put off watching any Disney flicks until she's old enough to understand how ridiculous it would be to give up first your voice and later your entire family because you think some dude on the beach is hot. And I don't believe we'll ever be going to Disney.

    ReplyDelete
  10. When we hit the height of princess-mania, I quietly steered her toward Princess Leia of Star Wars, telling tales about the Princess who controls an entire army to win over the evil ones. (She was only 5 at the time, and has yet to watch the movies)She totally liked the idea of being able to wear some bling AND command an army at the same time.

    Frankly, I don't worry too much, because I see her being attracted to the sparkle and bling, and not so much to the figures and stereotypes. I do however stress to her, that I don't find those passive and waaay too nice princesses 'good', because they don't DO anything. Then she just turns her eyes skyward and sighs: I know, Mommy!

    Recently she came home complaining about how so many of the other girls were boring to play with, they only play girly-girly-frilly-games. That brought a smile to my face :-)

    ReplyDelete
  11. Love it when children give a glimpse of a world with totally different reference frames than the adult one =) Of course princess uses bows and arrows!

    I don't have children, so I haven't had to face this problem (yet), but I have been going over it a great deal in my mind. One can of course never protect them entirely from the cutural impact of the society they live in, but how to at least balance it? And I must admit that the thought of raising boys is equally daunting. After all, "adventure"-movies featuring only boys are for both genders, but "relationship"-movies are only for girls. How foolish. How on earth does one present good rolemodels for young boys?

    The whole situation and problem almost makes it seem like a too big responsibility to have children, but then I see all the amazing parents around me and their smart and free-thinking kids, and I get some confident that maybe, maybe I too could do that. Given I'll get the chance to have kids... =)
    So thank you for sharing this and similar posts, it's so inspiring to hear how parents of young children navigate around norms and codes of conduct!

    ReplyDelete
  12. Great post. I always have a negative reaction to the princess outfits for kids, so it was interesting to hear your take on it.

    ReplyDelete
  13. I love that you've broached this topic - I've always had a bee in my bonnet about the constant re-iteration of traditional(ie sexist ) gender roles. I have always avoided disney as much as possible because of the whole ''i need to be a pretty princess to get my prince'' message that seems to run through most of their fairytales.
    I even found myself explaining to my three ear old and her friend, that ''no you don't need a prince, you need to aspire to greater things for yourself...career, independance, a partner who sees you as an equal etc....'' they just looked at me like I was crazy and went back to playing!! It sounds like you're hitting the right balance with your daughter though - dressing up is fun. I think once kids are aware that there is so much more to life than manicures and hair extensions then they'll be ok ! Mine all loved Brave too.

    ReplyDelete
  14. I would suggest strongly suggest Wreck-it Ralph for you non-princess XD. The main female characters are a soldier in a FPS game and a racing car driver-kid. There are two secondary female characters that bake etc but they're little s*ts and only appear for about 2 mins at the beginning and the end (and at the end they are reformed-from being sh*ts not from baking and stuff-I bake by the way but I'm not a sh*t about it XD). I really liked the whole women racing cars and shooting guns to save the day thing. Totally my kinda thing. Also Coralline (but maybe later for that one-it's scary).

    ReplyDelete
  15. I just happened on your blog today because I am also a Mom who sews and just happens to excel at domesticity, much to my surprise! I have two daughters, one is four and is into the princess scene. It has worried me for a while and I also am the kind of feminist who picks apart the messages my child is receiving. We just recently moved back to the south where my spouse and i grew up and I am overwhelmed all over again at the deep patriarchy in southern culture! Anyway all this to say I try very hard to have conversations with my daughter about strength, courage, using your brain, being smart, creative, etc. and try to temper the princess messages whenever I have a chance. A childrens book that does help your child think differently about the princess culture is Olivia and the Fairy Princesses. Thanks for mentioning your struggle on your blog, nice to know other Moms out there have the same concerns for their daughters.

    ReplyDelete

LinkWithin

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...